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Signal, a private encrypted messenger service, is known for its privacy and security features

June 22, 2021

Signal has gone from being a relatively unknown app to becoming the top free app in several countries, including India. The massive rush of new users to the open-source app is thanks to WhatsApp’s new terms of service and privacy policies. It has witnessed a spike in downloads as users search for WhatsApp alternatives.

This comes after WhatsApp announced that it is updating its terms of service and privacy policies from February 8, 2021. Users who do not agree to its new policies will not be able to use the app, the company said in an in-app notification.

What is Signal?

Widely used by journalists, lawyers, politicians, security experts, and researchers, Signal is a messaging application that is known for its privacy and security features. It has also been endorsed by privacy advocate Edward Snowden and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

One of the important features that differentiates Signal from WhatsApp is that it’s an open-source app. This means that it can be inspected by security experts to verify security and flag any issues with the code.

The app has been developed by the Signal Foundation and Signal Messenger LLC. An independent nonprofit, Signal has no adverts or ad trackers, the company isn’t tied to any other major tech companies, and has previously said it and won’t be acquired by one, either.

Signal’s privacy features

From end-to-end encryption to relay calls, Signal offers a number of features to keep your texts, calls, and media secure.

End-to-end encryption

As with WhatsApp, Signal uses end-to-end encryption to keep all forms of conversation secure.

“We can’t read your messages or listen to your calls, and no one else can either. Privacy isn’t an optional mode – it’s just the way that Signal works. Every message, every call, every time,” the company says on its website.

Signal encrypts everything–texts, voice and video calls, photos, attachments, and even stickers and GIFs. Additionally, it has a ‘Sealed Sender’ feature, through which the sender and recipient’s details are hidden from Signal.

However, the encryption works only for Signal-to-Signal communications. This means that if you’re communicating with someone who hasn’t installed Signal, communications are still unsecured.

Securely back up chats

Unlike WhatsApp, Signal doesn’t back up your data to Google Drive or iCloud. When your data is stored on another server, it is vulnerable to cyberattacks. On Signal, all your texts, images, files, and other data are securely stored in an encrypted database on your device.

This means that if you lose your old phone and set up Signal on a new device, your previously-stored data will be gone. However, you can transfer your data if you still have your old device or haven’t deleted the data from it.

Disappearing messages

While the disappearing messages feature is relatively new for WhatsApp, it’s existed on Signal for a long time. This feature, which can be activated or deactivated by anyone in the chat, lets you set a timer between 10 seconds and one week, and any messages older than the set time will disappear.

Incognito keyboard to keep other apps from seeing what you type

Third-party keyboard apps on your Android device can keep a record of what you type and swipe, thereby compromising the privacy of your messages. To prevent this, Signal has an Incognito Keyboard option, which prevents your keyboard from learning what you type.

Relay calls to hide your IP address

The relay calls feature on Signal allows you to call any other user through a relay service. This means that when you enable this feature, all the calls you place will be relayed through a Signal server, thereby hiding your IP address from your contact.

While this may not be a necessity for most people, it essentially allows for confidential conversations with other Signal users.

Safety number to verify security of messages and calls

Each one-to-one chat on Signal has a unique safety number that allows you to verify the security of your messages and calls with specific contacts. For sensitive communications, you can verify the safety numbers of your contact.

If both you and your contact’s safety numbers match, it means that you’re communicating with the right person. Signal will alert you whenever a safety number has changed. If this happens frequently, its may be an indication that something is wrong.

Screen security to prevent previews

In addition to the screen lock feature designed to lock your Signal screen, the app also has a feature called screen security, which prevents Signal previews from appearing when you’re switching apps or pulling down the notification bar.

When enabled, the feature will hide your Signal messages with a blue privacy screen. Additionally, on Android, this feature will also prevent screenshots of Signal on your device.

Where Are Messages Stored on Signal

You may have been using Signal for months now without thinking about where your messages are stored. However, you may need to backup messages or delete data on your device, so knowing where to find your messages can come in handy. Whether you’re an Android or an iOS user, we’ll show you where to find your messages.

What data does Signal collect?

Signal does not sell, rent or monetize your personal data or content in any way – ever,” the company says.

Unlike WhatsApp, Signal only collects your account information, i.e. the phone number you used to register on Signal. Information such as your profile name and profile picture are also end-to-end encrypted.

Signal does not collect your contacts. However, in order to check if any of your contacts are also using Signal, the app periodically sends truncated, hashed phone numbers back to Signal’s servers. However names are not transmitted and the information is not stored on the servers. Once the server responds with the contact that use Signal, the information is immediately discarded.

“Additional technical information is stored on our servers, including randomly generated authentication tokens, keys, push tokens, and other material that is necessary to establish calls and transmit messages,” Signal says in its privacy policy, adding that this technical information will be kept to the minimum required.

While Signal doesn’t store your messages on their servers, it “queues end-to-end encrypted messages on its servers for delivery to devices that are temporarily offline.”

Signal adds that it may share some information with third parties to provide some services, such as those used to send a verification code to your phone when you register with Signal. However, these providers “are bound by their Privacy Policies to safeguard that information.”


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